HUNTLEY – A Crystal Lake nonprofit devoted to keeping teens safe behind the wheel has added a Huntley chapter of five area high schools as the group looks for future expansion to combat distracted driving.
Sean McGrath, a Crystal Lake police officer, founded Operation Click in 1998 in hopes of increasing seat-belt compliance among the many teenage drivers at Crystal Lake District 155’s four high schools.
Now, Operation Click has expanded to 39 high schools in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin and has broadened its mission to make teens aware of emerging distractions, such as texting while driving.
“There’s a need to keep our kids safe,” said McGrath, president of Operation Click. “Texting and driving has become a very serious issue. It’s almost as dangerous as intoxicated driving.”
The new Huntley chapter is a testament to the group, which relies heavily on incentives to reward teens for good driving habits,
McGrath said. The Huntley chapter includes Huntley High School in District 158; Dundee-Crown, Jacobs and Hampshire high schools in District 300; and Marengo High School in District 154.
Operation Click’s most coveted prize is a new car for students who uphold a signed contract with the group that stipulates seat-belt use at all times, a commitment not to drink and drive, and a promise to avoid traffic convictions.
Each student within Click’s six chapters can be eligible to win a new car at the end of the school year. Material incentives often can motivate teens more effectively to become better drivers, McGrath has found.
Operation Click also partners with AAA Chicago to provide resources and materials for schools to increase driving awareness. Schools can even run students through a distracted driving course, using Operation Click’s two golf carts.
Students navigate the course wearing goggles that simulate alcohol impairment, while texting on a phone and listening to blaring music. The course aims to give students a taste of the increasingly common distractions that cause unsafe driving, McGrath said.
A study last spring from AT&T found that 61 percent of teens say their friends text while driving. The findings back up a separate study two years ago from the Pew Research Center that cited 58 percent of teens being in a car while a driver texted.
With the increased distractions, Huntley High School looked to Operation Click to help make teen driving a prominent issue at school, said Don Hantson, the high school’s dean of students.
Since August, the school has had 250 students sign Click’s contract. The school also conducts weekly raffles for students who display good driving, and officials do quarterly seat-belt compliance checks, the results of which are sent to Operation Click.
“We want to make them aware that wearing a seat belt is important and that safety while driving is important,” Hantson said.